NASA Spacecraft Finds Pits on the Moon That Always Hover Around a Comfortable

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Artist Concept

Artist’s rendering of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Scientists have discovered shaded locations within pits on the Moon that always hover around a comfortable 63 °F (about 17 °C). The

Since pits were first discovered on the Moon in 2009, scientists wondered if they led to caves that could be explored or used as shelters. Besides for the more stable temperatures, the pits or caves could also offer some protection from cosmic rays, solar radiation, and micrometeorites.

“About 16 of the more than 200 pits are probably collapsed lava tubes,” said Tyler Horvath, a doctoral student in planetary science at the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the new research, recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Structure of Lunar Pit Craters

Variations in lighting reveal the structure of the fascinating lunar pit craters. The center panel, with the Sun high above, gives scientists a great view of the Maurius Hills pit floor. Each panel is 300 meters wide, left M133207316LE, center M122584310LE, right M114328462RE. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

“Lunar pits are a fascinating feature on the lunar surface,” said LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Knowing that they create a stable thermal environment helps us paint a picture of these unique lunar features and the prospect of one day exploring them.”

Lava tubes, which are also found on Earth, form when molten lava flows beneath a field of cooled lava or a crust forms over a river of lava, leaving a long, hollow tunnel. If the ceiling of a solidified lava tube collapses, it opens a pit that can lead into the rest of the cave-like tube.

Two of the most prominent lunar pits have visible overhangs that clearly lead to caves or voids, and there is strong evidence that another’s overhang may also lead to a large cave.

“Humans evolved living in caves, and to caves we might return when we live on the Moon,” said David Paige, a co-author of the paper who leads the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment aboard LRO…

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